The California Department of Education released its annual dropout rate report last week and, while the number of kids turning their backs on high school diplomas continues its steady and troubling rise, the Santa Barbara School District saw its dropout rate hold steady at 9.6 percent — well below the overall state rate of 22 percent for the 2008/09 school year. In fact, to hear Davis Hayden — the district’s Director of Research and Evaluation — tell it, Santa Barbara’s dropout rate may be even lower when taking into account several special education students (a small bunch of kids who, due to circumstances beyond their control, are essentially unable to matriculate) and students who leave the district for a school in another state or country without requesting their records, two subsets of students that the state lumps into the dropout count but who don’t really fit the traditional “dropout” definition. “If you include them in the calculations, which the state does, it can almost double your dropout rate,” explained Hayden. According to him, subtract these groups of from S.B.’s dropout algebra and we would have a rate closer to 5 percent.
Specifically, 2008/09 saw some 100 students (including members of the aforementioned groups) in grades 9 through 12 drop out, compared to 124 during the school year prior. Of these students, more than 60 of them were Latino, 51 of them were considered “socioeconomically disadvantaged,” and nearly half of them were socioeconomically challenged Hispanics. Further, roughly half of the dropouts were in their senior year. Also of note, this dropout rate does not include the 119 students (out of a total enrollment of 569) who left school last year while enrolled at Santa Barbara County Office of Education-run schools. These numbers are not included in the state’s assessment of dropout rates due to the fact that they are often schools of last resort and, by their very nature, have a high turnover rate.
Explaining that the manner in which the state calculates dropout rates has been in constant flux in recent years, Hayden figures this year’s report, though still in need of some tweaks, is “the most accurate” to date. Looking at old, raw, S.B.-specific dropout data with the improved vehicle of today’s standards, Hayden said he suspects that, “For the past 10 to 15 years, [Santa Barbara School District] has held steady right around a 10-percent dropout rate … We really do an excellent job at keeping our kids in school.”